Lessons from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’

Lessons from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’

By its name, the book sounds like a war strategy book, but it is not so. Anything that brings chaos or causes problems is said to be war.

When we talk about winning wars by strategic tactics and schemes, only one book comes to our mind, ‘The Art of War’, written 2500 years ago and still meaningful and relevant to our lives. The book is read by top military, business, economic and political leaders. It is also taught in military and business schools due to the pearls of wisdom contained in it. Those who wish to ascend the stairs of leadership or aspire to be a leader must read this book.
‘The Art of War’ is said to be authored by a Chinese military general, Sun Tzu. The book was later translated into many languages due to its legendary and mythical content. I personally found the book unputdownable when I first laid my hands on it, as it is replete with path-breaking and thought-provoking content. It leaves you flabbergasted with its rhythmic and poetic allure. It contains insights and wisdoms that strongly focus on winning any war even if it is fought at a micro level. The readers are left mesmerised with its mythical style of writing.
Let me straight delve into it and familiarise you with why it is still relevant today. By its name, the book sounds like a war strategy book, but it is not so. Anything that brings chaos or causes problems is said to be war, according to the writer Sun Tzu. So, the art of war helps you fight these wars. Each one of us, at some point in our lives, fights a war at a micro level. Every one of us struggles, at some point in our lives, or is confronted with a number of problems. Each such war can be bravely fought and won, provided the strategies explained in the book are appropriately followed and acted upon.
The author lays emphasis on, “Know your enemy and know yourself and in hundred battles you will never be in peril.” The statement applies to every aspect of our lives. It means that to recognise yourself and your enemy is the most significant path to victory. Here the enemy doesn’t really mean your enemy but your objective, goal and target that you want to achieve. And knowing yourself refers to the competencies and abilities that you need to possess for achieving your goals.
The author further goes on to say, ‘All warfare is based on deception’. To hoodwink the enemy or forming some sort of deception around your enemies is a precursor to victory. As long as he is deceived, all his strategic plans will bear him no results. If your plans are laid bare, it will empower your enemy, which increases the chances of losing the war. Sun Tzu wonderfully sums it by saying, ‘When able to attack, we must seem unable. When using our force we must seem inactive. When we are near we must make the enemy believe that we are far away. When far away we must make him believe that we are near.’ The statement is simply breathtaking as it tells us how deception can be created around enemies.
In this remarkable book, Sun Tzu continues to say, ‘Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night and when you fall (upon the enemy), like a thunderbolt.’ The meaning that can be drawn from it is: never reveal to your enemies what you are up to. Warfare is synonymous with deception. This book comes to aid while making strategic moves on daily basis; it even makes meticulous calculations about those moves, thereby minimising the chances of losing a war of any kind. The essence of the book or gist that I draw from the book is ‘winning without fighting is best.’ These words sum it all elegantly.
Although the writer devotes the book to winning a war, he simultaneously desists us from fighting it. Basically, Sun Tzu believed in human brain and intellect and in the book he lays stress upon our brain which is so sharp that it foresees consequences of the fight even before it begins. An enemy can be defeated through negotiations, diplomacy, research and analysis, without waging a war. War brings about bloodshed and damages that are irreparable, thereby depleting all the resources of the state. The author says, ‘Military tactics are like unto water, for water in its natural course runs away from high places and moves downwards. So in wars, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike what is weak. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponents and thereby succeed in winning may be called a “heaven born captain.” The best captain is the one who makes changes in his plans with reference to his opponent.’
There is another great statement that Sun Tzu makes in his book: “When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.’ When a leader works without authority, his command becomes weak and indistinct. So, he will be confused and most certainly will fail to delegate his assigned work. He will lack the authority of nurturing and grooming people, as a result chaos and disorder will set in his organisation. Be it a war general or corporate leader, he has to have clarity of thought and his team management skills should be excellent. Only then will sanity prevail in his organisation or company.
Sun Tzu makes a noteworthy statement which is meaningful and has to be quoted: ‘Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.’ If you treat your soldiers and companions as your children, they will lay down their lives for you if you are threatened. In these words lie a thought-provoking insight for managers who keep bombarding their employees with harsh treatment and bitter remarks. They are of the opinion that this is how work can be done regardless of employees’ self-esteem. However, this is contrary to what Sun Tzu says in this book. People who you have treated well will come to rescue you and even sacrifice their lives for you. From the leadership and team management perspective, ‘The Art of War ‘ offers lessons which are priceless. If you want to lead in your company or organisation, the book has a great worth for you.

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